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“anyone else confused how a religious institution is allowed to operate indefinitely on the National Mall?”

by Prince Of Petworth February 10, 2017 at 12:30 pm 67 Comments

david's tent
via @DavidsTentDC

Adam asks:

“anyone else confused how a religious institution (@DavidsTentDC “Perpetual 24/7 Worship on the National Mall, Washington D.C. || Lead a worship set || Sep 11 2015 – indefinitely. || Because Jesus is worthy”) is allowed to operate indefinitely on the National Mall?”

You can see David’s Tent’s website here.

  • Chai

    Sweet permit $$$ for NPS?

  • anon

    I have no problem with it provided that the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has an equal right to worship on the Mall.

    • DCLimey


      • LCinDC

        YASSSS. Thank you for this.

  • dcgator

    Despite claiming separation of church and state, we are still essentially a Christian nation?

    • KPS

      Would it be better if this group were Muslim? In other words, are you just annoyed because it’s Christian? Honest question.

      • dcgator

        Nah, I think separation of church and state should exist for all religions (even though, incidentally, it only says church, but that’s just kinda funny more than anything else). I still don’t really get why “Under God” is in the pledge, although, I did just wikipedia it’s origins. There are a host of other examples of this, obviously.
        HOWEVER, if it WAS a Muslim (or even Mormon, but obviously worse if Muslim) group, you can betchur bottom dollar there’d be a huge uproar over this.

        • Elkhaert

          What says “church?” The First Amendment says “Religion.” The phrase “separation of church and state” is not part of the constitution, it is just a phrase attributed to Thomas Jefferson as an explanation of the purpose of the establishment and free exercise clauses.
          Just saying, if we are gonna get pedantic, let’s get pedantic. ;)

          • Truxtoner


    • Hill Denizen

      One of the times I went to the Easter sunrise service at the Lincoln Memorial, the Pastor played the whole government oppressing Christians line, and all I could think was, “You have a permit to for a massive religious service on one of the most iconic government owned landmarks. Please, tell me about how you’re oppressed…” And @KPS, I believe the objection would be the same if it were Muslim.

      • KPS

        “all I could think was, “You have a permit to for a massive religious service on one of the most iconic government owned landmarks. Please, tell me about how you’re oppressed…” — Well, that’s certainly fair enough. I felt the same way about the Women’s March.

        • wdc

          The women’s march couldn’t get a permit for the Mall. Had to tuck the stage back between some federal buildings.

        • Hill Denizen

          Women weren’t complaining that the government prevented them from marching or protesting, whereas the pastor was complaining that the government is restricting the exercise of religion.

        • AJSE

          Hoo boy that point flew right over you, didn’t it?

        • MJH

          Please KPS, tell me more about why you think women should NOT feel oppressed. Women who are losing their right to control their own bodies, women who demand equal pay, women who are fighting against rape culture and domestic violence….I can go on…..but the women’s march was about more than just being a woman. It was an intersectional movement – the LGBT community, Muslims, Blacks, Latinos, the disabled, and other marginalized groups – we were all there together in solidarity.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Just to play devil’s advocate, without getting into irrelevant details or even the specific religion in question, if followers of a given religion are allowed to assemble and perform their worship service, but the state has laws that forces them to do things that they regard as wrong and/or prohibits them from doing things that they regard as vital to their faith, would followers of this hypothetical religion have reason to feel that they are being oppressed? (I mean as a general feeling, not a legal claim.)
        Personally, it sounds to me like this is where the pastor was coming from, whether you agree with him or not. I personally am slightly sympathetic with the general argument, even though I disagree with a lot of the specific applications in which it is used. Moreover, it bothers me when Americans throw around words like oppression when people are actually literally being jailed and murdered because of their faith in other parts of the world. I too would have been turned off by such remarks from a pastor. I disagree, though, that the fact that the service was allowed to take place constitutes meaningful evidence against his claim – there is a lot more to freedom of religion than freedom to hold a worship service.

  • YoYoAnon

    Separation of church and state does not mean that the government can refuse a religious group’s lawful exercise of their rights on government property (with the proper permits, of course). Denying a religious group that right, on the other hand, would be unconstitutional.

  • Billy

    NPS should be ashamed.

    • ET

      Especially since they basically threw everyone else – like the Book Festival (and almost the Folklife Festival) off their property.

  • Anon X

    because the establishment clause doesnt say what you think it says?

    They have a permit and are a separate entity.

    This is not the same as a muslim based ban or the government putting the 10 commandments on the front yard of a courthouse.

    These are private citizens who filed for a permit. Presumably, you could do the same sort of arrangement for islam, Scientology, physics, or spaghetti monsters.

    In fact, blocking the permit on religious grounds would be more disturbing.

    • Hill Denizen

      If they’re not sleeping there, I don’t think it’s any different than the anti-war tent in front of the White House (though on a larger scale).

    • KPS

      Exactly. Really tired of people who use that phrase not knowing what it really means. And what difference does it make that some Christians want to gather and pray? Anyone who doesn’t like Christianity or prayer doesn’t have to visit that tent.

      • Kevin

        So sorry you are so tired, KPS.

        Would a temporary Muslim mosque would have been allowed to set up there…under Trump’s National Park Service?

        • YoYoAnon

          Yes, or they could sue Trump and his NPS in court and would likely win.

          • ParkViewneighbor

            Or most likely they would know that they would be scrutinized and harassed so they would not even drop a permit application.
            Sometimes it’s not because it is “legal” that it is feasible

        • Anon X

          Hypotheticals arent the point. For the record, I’d not have a problem with it. But the fact that you’re using a hypothetical, yet to happen, infringement to justify advocating for infringing on others just displays the intolerance that permeates America. Its no longer about striving for equality and inclusion its about retribution and a punitive tit-for-tat.

          America is ripe for authoritarianism – but Trump is just the most immediate threat. Your team of zealots might get an at-bat in a few years as this downward cycle continues.

          • KPS

            YES. I won’t try to add anything more to @AnonX’s perfect comment.

    • anon

      It’s the “24/7” and “indefinite” that should get the attention. A permit would suggest a variance from normal useage, whereas this seems more like a quasi-permanent arrangement.

      I don’t have an issue with permitting faith based groups on public land, but the notion of giving unlimited access is something else altogether.

      And spare me — no one is every signing off on a quasi-permanent Flying Spaghetti Monster site on NPS land.

      • Anon X

        Oh please. indefinitely doesnt mean permanent. it means they dont know. maybe their permit expire and they expect to get an extension. the idea that they have obtained some implied right to occupy the space permanently is somewhat preposterous. normally if it doesnt make sense, its because it isnt happening.

        Im sick of so much widespread intolerance among the tolerant. If this were any sort of tent but seemingly right-wing evangelists, most of the critics would praise the diversity and inclusiveness.

        I dont think you understand how your posture, and the posture of all that agree with you, actually amplifies the power of the people you oppose. You may think they’re a bunch of slack jawed neanderthals but they understand double standards and hypocrisy when they see it.

        If it doesnt infringe on anyones’s rights, let it be and focus on the myriad things that actually will be infringing in the next 4 years.

        • LittleBluePenguin

          If they understood hypocrisy and double standards, maybe I wouldn’t have abandoned organized religion. Or (perhaps worse), they did understand it and simply turned a blind eye.

          Look, I agree that, if they have a permit and have gone through the proper channels, then more power to them, and certainly blocking their permit based on religious grounds would be worse. But I can understand some people being confused, too. Let’s not pretend that there haven’t been a number of decades in this country where those in power have catered to Protestants.

        • KPS

          You are preaching truth to power today, @AnonX.

          • Kevin

            “You are preaching truth to power today, @AnonX.”

            Hilarious. He’s simply ranting on a community message board, but hey, if that makes you feel better belive what you will.

        • anon

          does NPS generally provide “indefinite” permits? Please cite other cases where users are given unlimited and unrestricted access to a permitted site? Do most permits last 1 year and half and counting? NPS is pretty tight about issuing these for events. This just looks like someone homesteading on public property.

          you’re indignation is laughable.

          • Anon X

            No one has alleged, except you, that the permit is indefinite. And indefinite does not imply permanent. You are losing your shit over the fact that you think someone has something that you, yourself, said cant exist, while thinking my indignation is laughable.

        • MR

          @AnonX I’m sorry you’re sick of all the “intolerance among the tolerant.” Maybe if you took a step back and stopped acting like the “zealots” you’ve criticized on here, you might see OP’s point. Also, there’s no need to act like you’re smarter than everyone else (accusing someone of not know what the establishment clause says). You talk about other people’s posture–how about your own?
          I think it’s pretty clear what OP was asking. How is it that a religious group–any religious group–could have what seems to be an indefinite permit for a building on public grounds? If it’s true that any religious group has the same right, fine. Equal treatment and opportunity doesn’t violate the law. But if other religious groups are not allowed “perpetual 24/7 worship on the National Mall,” then we have a problem. That’s the point. You briefly address this in your comment at 1:02, but for the most part you just assume people are being intolerant. OP’s question was fair and your assumption of intolerance was inappropriate.

          • Anon X

            Actually, whats clear about what the OP is asking is the question that they asked, which was: “anyone else confused how a religious institution is allowed to operate indefinitely on the National Mall?”

            Since my previous answers were insufficient then let me answer it this way…. “Nope not at all confused because I know stuff and I dont make a series of knee-jerk unsupported, baseless assumptions”.

            As for “theres no need to act like youre smarter than everyone else”. I’m not “acting” and its not everyone else… but perhaps its you?

            Clearly I’m not a zealot- its abundantly clear from my posts. Try again.

          • MR

            @AnonX Ha, you’re hilarious. “Clearly I’m not a zealot, I just get super worked up in comment sections of websites and like to accuse other people of being dim and overzealous.” Good thing you’re not at all confused and that you “know stuff.” But if you want to make this personal that’s fine. I assume you’re just as much of a blowhard in person as you are in the comments.

          • Anon X

            ugh. have a great day!

          • MR

            @AnonX Also, because you claim you’re smarter than me and everyone else: Check out an English book sometime. Maybe then you’ll learn something about using ellipses and contractions.

    • Autoexec.bat

      OMG, thank you. I have been beating this drum for years. Credit to my high school gov’t teacher for getting the interpretation right (in the deep south, no less). So many people think that “separation of Church and State” means that the government cannot acknowledge or make accommodation for any religion. Far from it.

      • KPS

        Separation of Church and State protects BOTH Church and State. That’s why it is so vital.

        • Autoexec.bat

          I agree. But I never said it wasn’t vital, just misinterpreted.

  • Reality

    Well, I have a problem with this.

    • KPS

      So don’t visit the tent.

    • B’Dale Res

      Whatta ya gonna do about it?

  • stacksp

    Doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t appear that they are bothering anyone

  • U St. Neighbor (who also is a lawyer)

    It is pretty much all of the important bits of the First Amendment coming together. While the Government is not permitted to restrict free expression or the right to free assembly, it may regulate the “time, place and manner” of the expression to a reasonable degree so as to ensure others’ rights of expression aren’t infringed upon. Within that framework of “time, place, and manner” regulations, the National Mall is something of a permanent “free speech zone,” where due to the history of the location and its ordinarily understood use as a space where ideas are shared and debated freely and in public, there are virtually no acceptable restrictions on free expression on the National Mall.

    Even when there are time, place and manner restrictions in place, the Government is still prohibited from regulating or restricting in any way the CONTENT of free expression. That includes religious expression. In fact, religious expression is doubly protected by the First Amendment, because not only is the Government precluded from regulating the content of free speech, it also is required by the Establishment Clause to adopt of a position of complete neutrality amongst religions, and as between religion and non-religion.

    So, if a non-religious group is allowed to use the National Mall for free expression of non-religious ideas, a religious group must be free to use the National Mall to express religious ideas to the same extent. Any differentiation between them by the Government on account of the religious or non-religious nature of the views expressed would give the appearance of endorsing religious (or non-religious) views over non-religious (or religious) views, which would run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

    By the same token, if a non-religious group is allowed to apply (and re-apply, and re-apply, and re-apply…) for a permit to put up a tent on the National Mall in order to facilitate their free speech, expression, and assembly, then a religious group has to be allowed to do the same to exactly the same degree.

    • Count Pheasant

      Had to scroll through a lot of garbage comments to get to this but this was a good reward. Thanks.

      • KPS

        WOW. I think the comments here are mostly intelligent, even if I don’t agree with all of them. “Garbage” is what you think of others’ free expression? That’s pitiful, really. *smh*

        • dcd

          Only when it’s intellectually bankrupt nonsense.

  • logandude

    I don’t know about “permanent”, but don’t we have the Falun Gong people on the Mall near the Hirshhorn sculpture garden every weekend?

    • anon

      yes — on weekends. not for a coninuous 1.5 years and counting

      • TX2DC

        They are there on weekdays too. I pass them almost everyday one my lunchtime jog.

        • TX2DC

          *on, not one

  • katemc
    • Carol

      Thanks for digging this up!

  • wowtdc

    I dislike that they are allowed to use amplified sound in the tent. I was around there on a beautiful fall day and it was a nuisance to the surrounding area.

  • HaileUnlikely

    For the record, in case it influences how anybody feels about this (it shouldn’t, but…), their permit was granted under the Obama administration.

    • anon

      makes no difference. They’re homesteading on public land. It’s not simply an exercise of free speech. They’re usurping public space.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Without comment on the second part of your post (because I know next to nothing about how getting a permit to do stuff on the mall works) I agree that it makes no difference. Several above entered hypotheticals about whether members of another religion would be allowed to do this under the Trump administration, though. That was my point.

  • Anonymous

    The article referenced above quotes a Park Service rep as saying that “anyone can obtain a permit for up to four months for a demonstration on the Mall, and can renew it indefinitely.” As long as the Park Service is not treating religious groups differently from non-religious groups, there is no First Amendment problem with this.

  • took one pre-law class

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

    the last clause being the pertinent part in this case; as long as they would not PROHIBIT any other religion from doing same, they are all good.

  • General Grant Circle

    Anyone can obtain a permit and renew it indefinitely. It is super costly obviously. Separation of church and state doesnt mean a private group cant pray on public property……………………………………….

    This is a dumb thing to get in a tizzy over. Ive seen the staff have some emotional prayer seshs with DC’s homeless population

  • anon

    I clicked on the video. I don’t see how they think they can accomplish their goal without continuous music of 4,000 musicians and 288 singers for 33 years.

  • OP here. Thanks for the mostly thoughtful comments on this. Mostly makes sense to me now. Still uncertain why they are allowed to renew indefinitely, but I read that’s due to
    A bit of a loophole as well as NPS budgetary constraints. Certainly did not mean to insinuate this was only allowed due to the current administration – I knew it popped up during the Obama years. However I would hope a synagogue or mosque (or satanic circle?) would be allowed to have a similar indefinite home on the mall these days.


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